I first spot Mathew Gerson standing on the little bridge that leads visitors onto his Topanga Canyon property, over what may have once been a creek, through boxes of planted flowers, herbs and vegetables and beyond a shallow canopy of lush greenery. It’s only 9 a.m., but the sun is already bright and hot. A couple of big dogs soak in it, while butterflies and hummingbirds flutter by as I pass the huge teepee in his yard. It’s lined with white fur blankets and pillows, and it’s where Gerson awoke a few hours earlier, next to his fiancée, a sleek and languid holistic life coach named Colleen Baxter.
Gerson leads me to his patio, where he reaches through a large window to the kitchen and takes a dose of the low-THC, high-CBD oil he’s prepared with lemongrass and damiana, a flower essence I’ve long coveted for its mood-lifting, heart-opening and leg-spreading properties. “This is how I start my day,” he says before inviting me to join him. The mid-fortysomething entrepreneur is completely California casual, with tan skin, loose linens and a sprig of jasmine sticking out from the brim of his hat.
“You can have some pretty idealistic ideas when you’re high. You don’t always bring them into fruition, but for some reason, this one, Foria, has really stuck around,” Gerson continues from the indoor-outdoor breakfast nook, where his laptop is strewn next to quartz crystals and a bowl of flowers floating in water.
Foria, short for Euphoria, is Gerson’s wellness company. Best known as a “weed lube” company, it’s been at the fore of both the intervaginal use of marijuana — beyond lube, Foria sells vaginal and anal suppositories — and the Green Rush’s eco-chic aesthetic. Gerson launched the company in 2014, with its first product — Pleasure. Like all Foria’s oils, Pleasure is totally edible and made with just two simple ingredients: coconut oil and weed. To be clear, though, Gerson’s products don’t get you high in the psychoactive sense. Rather, they trigger localized cannabinoid receptors in your nether regions that relax and relieve the area of application.
At least, that’s what Gerson thinks is happening. The reality is, some gynecologists aren’t even certain the vagina has cannabinoid receptors to begin with. Though in fairness, they also haven’t spent as much time experimenting with vaginal weed use as Gerson. “The medical community was concerned with our Relief suppository, because the dose of cannabis, 60 milligrams, sounded so high to them,” says Gerson. “They were like, ‘That’s a strong dose of cannabis. That’s going to go right to the bloodstream and get people high.’ But what we’ve discovered from listening to our patients’ testimonies and doing more research is that because of the density of CB one and two receptors (cannabinoid receptors) in the pelvic region, a lot of the benefit is being captured topically and localized. Then you’re bypassing the liver, and it’s the liver that creates the metabolite that gets you super high. The same goes for the anus.”
Such user-generated feedback is generally what inspires new Foria products and formulations. In fact, Gerson will often test his products on people who don’t regularly ingest cannabis to be sure issues of tolerance aren’t what accounts for the lack of psychoactivity — his aim is as much pain management as it is good sex. “Culture is creatively lazy right now,” he says. “We’re still waiting for experts to come up with new ideas, then prove them to us and then sell them to us, but it’s like, ‘What the heck?’ We all have the capacity for direct insight that can jump over the whole collective body of knowledge around certain topics.”
Gerson grew up in Philadelphia and started smoking weed as a teen. Both his father and stepmother were doctors, and he enrolled in college, but after a while, he got sick of the “containers” he was being put into and decided to retreat to the woods — the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado to be specific. According to Gerson, plants are his favorite teachers anyway. “I spent a good 10 years living off to the side of modern living. I didn’t have running water or electricity. I didn’t have a cell phone or electricity. This was in the 1990s. When you could still get away with it and not be considered the Unabomber. I just had an inclination toward a more direct relationship to nature that wasn’t mediated by books or ideas.”
Next, he spent the better part of a decade preparing to become a Buddhist monk, a plan that ended when he began a one-for-one condom company called Sir Richard’s. It functioned with a social entrepreneurship model similar to that of TOMS — i.e., every time a condom was sold, he would donate another one to Haiti.
It also was around this time that he stopped smoking weed. For a pretty familiar reason: At some point in his 30s, the weed — and his highs — got too intense. But once in Topanga, a famous canyon in L.A. known for a sense of bohemia that’s a little more authentic than the rest of the city, he was struggling to learn a new instrument. He longed for the way he could hear music so acutely while stoned, and given the amount of cannabis use and experimentation going on around him, he consulted a friend on how to ingest weed beyond the pipes and bongs he came of age using.
“I began exploring gentler expressions of cannabis because cannabis helps me hear better,” he says. “My friend was a connoisseur and taught me how to balance the cannabinoids and be more methodical about my approach. And once I heard about marijuana oils, all I could ever imagine was lubricant.”
Since Pleasure, he’s launched a number of other products — all pure and all edible. His vaginal suppositories (Relief) are intended to beat back menstrual cramps and sex-related pain (think Midol). Meanwhile, his anal suppositories (Explore) are intended to relax the anus and prostate and alleviate lower body pain (think poppers).
There’s also the THC-less Awaken, a blend of eight plants all considered to be aphrodisiacs in different cultures, including hemp oil, and all of which smell amazing (think vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, peppermint, cardamom cacao and kava root). “We’re developing more non-THC products because the consumer base interested in buying our productions is greater than the size of the market we’re legally allowed to sell in,” he explains.
His alchemy is rooted entirely in plant knowledge, knowledge women in particular have preserved since ancient times. When I ask him if he knows an herbalist and “weed witch” in Topanga whose Instagram I stalk, he responds that she’s officiating his wedding to Baxter next month. (Most fittingly, Baxter has her own wellness company, a holistic life coaching and functional health enterprise called Vessel and Soul; its tagline: “Indulge in a Higher Level of Being.”)
Next, Gerson invites me to the Foria office in Venice, the company’s first real headquarters aside from his home. He plans to spend his afternoon there brainstorming a new documentary about menstruation, witches and the church with three members of his team. And so, we hop in his truck and cruise down the canyon. “I’m glad we’re going down because I need some more star jasmine. I pop it in my hat and smell it all day long. The scent is so uplifting,” he says.
Soon, we reach the Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean is Gerson’s ally during his daily commute. Today, it’s extra sparkly. Cruising past Malibu and the Pacific Palisades, he explains that at different parts of my menstrual cycle, I’m more sensitive and receptive to THC than at others. “I’ve never talked about my period so much with any other man — not my friends, not my boyfriends and certainly not my father,” I respond.
He isn’t surprised. “What’s fascinating to me is we live in a time when men aren’t enthralled and devoted to the health and wellness of women. Why would I not be fascinated with reproduction when reproduction sustains our species? It’s pure magic and a thing of absolute beauty. But menstruation is shunned. Which makes no sense. As someone who doesn’t menstruate or have the ability to create life inside my womb, why shouldn’t I be fascinated by the part of our species that can and want to serve women in a way that keeps them happy, healthy and whole?”
Still, being a straight dude making sexual wellness products for women in 2018 comes with its own set of responsibilities. “At first, I was judgmental for being judged as a man in the space,” he admits. “But what I’ve since realized is that men have been selling women toxic sexual and reproductive health products for a long time. So I understand why women are discerning about what they consume. Plus, the experiences and outcomes of the women who used Pleasure began pouring out and that became the focus. Who founded the company no longer mattered as much.”
That said: “The earliest instances of using plants intervaginally were among witches,” he continues as we sail pass the Santa Monica Pier. “That’s the reason there’s this idea that witches fly on broomsticks — the witches would gather psychedelic herbs and make paste out of them. They realized that ingesting the compounds intervaginally would be safe whereas some could be toxic if eaten because of the way the body metabolizes. So they were making these compounds, applying them to broomsticks and using the broomsticks as dildos. Then they would ‘fly’ in a visionary, psychedelic way.
“I love that because it’s like an open secret, right there in front of us. We’ve hidden stuff like that from ourselves, so we constantly have to peel back those layers.”
All the while, he contends Foria products are useful for men, too. “I use the [anal] suppositories regularly for back pain, because I have a herniated disk. I also use them when I have a hard time sleeping because it relaxes my whole central nervous system and helps me sleep more deeply. As I learn more about body work, I become more aware of how much energy we hold in this region. It makes us uptight. We literally have a tight ass. And as a culture we’re a tight ass, too. We’re just holding onto this stuff, and it literally causes us lower back pain. So even if you’re not interested in having a prostate-induced massage or orgasm, opening up that region can be extraordinarily cathartic.”
“And in the bedroom,” Gerson adds, “my fiancée and I make a little salad dressing with Pleasure and Awaken. We also love cannalingus, which is when you get high off spraying Pleasure on your partner’s vagina and licking it off of them.”
Like hot yoga, sinus rinsing with a Neti Pot or rim jobs, Foria products induce a sense of pleasure strong enough to quickly normalize a behavior that was once totally foreign — e.g., marinating my vagina in THC. Though, I guess it’s fair to ask, why wouldn’t I want my pussy to get stoned? Or, better put, my lower chakras to relax? We hold most of our tension and old emotional energy in our hips anyway, including leftover energy from past lovers. Using Foria, you suddenly find space and a capacity for sensation you didn’t know you had. The weight of some of your lower body seems to lessen. Unlike other lubes, I feel like it goes beyond merely greasing the surface and actually dissolves some of the tension in the area, stress that’s often undetectable but can still limit pleasure (at best) or make sex extremely painful (at worst).
Also: Foria orgasms are great. Though while I guess my partner performed cannalingus too when we used Pleasure recently, I don’t think we’ve ever had un-stoned sex, so it’s hard to tell how it affected him. (We’re cannasexuals.)
Besides cannalingus, Gerson’s other go-to pun is replacing our “misogynistic culture with a massage-inistic culture” — via weed, of course. “American men have to undo a lot of our perceptions, especially in regards to sex, and get in touch with our insides. Our culture right now is hyper-masculine and super fucked up, obsessed with power and domination, and we see this system wreaking a lot of havoc. The fact that this so-called Green Rush is happening at a time when critiques of this sort of masculinity are becoming more mainstream is interesting to me. After all, it’s the female cannabis plant that’s always been the most revered.”
The new Foria office is just a few minutes away from the center of Venice Beach, where artisanal boutiques inch their way closer to the Boardwalk and ocean. Once we arrive, Gerson drops me off to talk to his colleagues while he spends the next half hour or so looking for parking. The space is a mark of the company’s increasing accessibility post-legalization in California and is perfectly located next to the Green Goddess dispensary, one of the best in L.A. Sometimes Foria also opens its doors to the public, especially when the Green Goddess line snakes in front of their entryway. Either way, there’s a display of Awaken products in the window for passersby to see, as well as brochures about Pleasure and the rest of the line, which Green Goddess sells. The rest of the space feels like Gerson’s home in Topanga but less sumptuous and more useful. The employees work at separate stations and all rise to give me a hug.
“[Gerson] always has ideas for inventions,” says Kiana Reeves, Foria’s communications director and a public health student whose studies focus on the pelvis. “Like, he wanted to work with NASA to create a lunar calendar that would simulate the light of the moon in your own room, which could then help people who bleed adjust their natural rhythms to link their menstrual cycle back up to the moon, because light pollution is what originally disrupted that relationship.”
Her colleague, Ben Odell, a marketing consultant specializing in health and wellness products since long before the Whole Foods-Amazon alliance, adds, “He totally comes out of that Boulder spirit of social entrepreneurship and conscious capitalism. He was talking about a kinetic pestle that women would use to grind up products, but while doing so, they’d be charging up a battery inside that would enable them to also use it as a vibrator.”
For now, though, Foria continues to grow slowly and sustainably. Up next is a collaboration with an Ivy League university for an observational study. (Gerson’s keeping which Ivy League university a secret until the news is announced in a few weeks.) In it, 800 women who don’t consume cannabis will be given 60 milligrams intervaginally to determine both if their menstrual discomfort is diminishing and if they’re experiencing any psychoactive effects.
The goal is to scientifically validate the hunch that’s the bedrock of Foria’s business — weed can bring sexual wellness to the genitals (especially the vagina) — and to make all of his user data something other than anecdotal. But if not, that’s okay, too. He’s sure proof will come soon enough. “I believe that the planet and everything surrounding us are alive, which is a fact, but most of us don’t actually have a connection to that livingness,” he says. “Politics has failed us. Religion has failed us. Consumer markets have failed us. I put my money on plants.”